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New Directions

CDTA unveils plan to radically restructure bus service in Albany County

by Shawn Stone on July 14, 2011

This fall, if all goes as planned, many of the Capital District Transportation Authority bus routes used by Albany County residents and commuters will cease to exist. Those slated for the ax include the West Albany (No. 2), Quail Street Belt (No. 3), Pine Hills (No. 4), Arbor Hill (No. 8) and the Belt via Hackett (No. 30). These and other discontinued lines will be replaced by new routes that, according to CDTA, will provide better, more efficient service.

At a four-hour public presentation and meeting at the Arbor Hill/West Hill Branch of the Albany Public Library on July 7, CDTA transportation planner Ross Farrell explained, “The neighborhood system is going to be completely reformed.” The current routes, Farrell pointed out, are centered on Albany’s downtown, while the region has evolved such that there are other primary destinations—such as popular hospitals and shopping centers.

After a lengthy series of public meetings with interested groups that began in 2010 and continued through early 2011, CDTA came up with a list of a dozen “most popular requests” for service changes. These, Farrell said, included increased service on the growing No. 7 Glenmont bus to Wal-Mart, and the perpetually crowded No. 12 Washington Avenue bus to Crossgates Mall; extended evening service on weeknights and new Sunday service along Delaware Avenue; and a bus that would run the entire length of Morton Avenue, directly serving Albany public-housing residents. According to Farrell, CDTA was able to meet 10 of the top 12 rider requests.

One of the keys to this restructuring, Farrell said, is that it had to be “revenue neutral.” In other words, CDTA had to design a system to serve its current ridership and attract new riders without the benefit of additional funds.

So new bus routes, with what CDTA has judged more popular destinations and geographically efficient routes, will replace the old. The proposed Mid City Belt (No. 100) will serve portions of the No. 3, 8 and 9 routes; a new Madison/Washington bus will travel to and from the CDTA/Amtrak station in Rensselaer along Madison and Washington avenues in Albany to and from Crossgates Mall; and a Clinton/Sand Creek bus will supersede the Nos. 2 and 3, giving residents of Arbor Hill, West Hill and West Albany direct service to Colonie Center (and a connection to BusPlus Colonie/Schenectady service).

Ward 10 Albany councilwoman and transit advocate Leah Golby attended the July 7 meeting. Reached by telephone a few days later, Golby said, “Overall, it seems to me that, given what they [CDTA] were working with, that there will be better transit for more people.”

While Golby has concerns with some aspects of the new routes, and about the effect on Pine Hills residents with the elimination of the No. 4, she was optimistic about the changes and the process: “It’s very clear that they listened to what people were asking for.”

There are a few service cuts, however. To increase service along Delaware Avenue, service along New Scotland Avenue will be slightly decreased. The Exchange Street loop off of Everett Road in West Albany, served now by the No. 2, will be eliminated. Residents of the Buckingham Pond area off Western Avenue, and of the Ohav Shalom apartments, where the No. 4 currently turns around, will lose direct service with the discontinuation of the Pine Hills bus.

Eileen Gerrish, who lives off Western Avenue along the route of the No. 4, has a car and could drive to work. She rides the bus to and from her downtown Albany job each day because, as she explained in a recent phone interview, “I want to be green, and have a smaller carbon footprint.”

Gerrish added, “I’m quite concerned that it will be an imposition on my neighbors.” Much of the Buckingham neighborhood, she pointed out, has no sidewalks; and many residents are elderly and infirm, making it impractical for them to follow CDTA’s suggestion and walk a few blocks to catch one of the remaining services. Gerrish also sited the case of a sight-impaired neighbor who relies on the No. 4 as their primary transportation.

Gerrish has taken it upon herself to print informational leaflets about the proposed changes, and has distributed them in her neighborhood. She confirmed that she would attend the next planning meeting to share her concerns directly with CDTA: “There are people’s lives involved.”

CDTA’s timetable is to finalize the plan in August 2011, and implement the changes in the fall.

The next public meeting on the Albany County route restructuring will be held Thursday (July 14) from 4 to 8 PM at the Pine Hills Branch of the Albany Public Library (517 Western Ave., Albany). A complete list of the proposed changes and relevant maps can be viewed at cdta.org.